Recently in Performances
Twelve years after Opera Holland Park's first production of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, the opera made a welcome return.
The Italianate cloister setting at Iford chimes neatly with Monteverdi’s penultimate opera The Return of Ulysses, as the setting cannot but bring to mind those early days of the musical genre. The world of commercial public opera had only just dawned with the opening of the Teatro San Cassiano in Venice in 1637 and for the first time opera became open to all who could afford a ticket, rather than beholden to the patronage of generous princes. Monteverdi took full advantage of the new stage and at the age of 73 brought all his experience of more than 30 years of opera-writing since his ground-breaking L’Orfeo (what a pity we have lost all those works) to the creation of two of his greatest pieces, Ulysses and then his final masterpiece, Poppea.
Once again, we find ourselves thanking an unrepresentable being for Welsh National Opera’s commitment to its mission. It is a sad state of affairs when a season that includes both Boulevard Solitude and Moses und Aron is considered exceptional, but it is - and is all the more so when one contrasts such seriousness of purpose with the endless revivals of La traviata which, Die Frau ohne Schatten notwithstanding, seem to occupy so much of the Royal Opera’s effort. That said, if the Royal Opera has not undertaken what would be only its second ever staging of Schoenberg’s masterpiece - the first and last was in 1965, long before most of us were born! - then at least it has engaged in a very welcome ‘WNO at the Royal Opera House’ relationship, in which we in London shall have the opportunity to see some of the fruits of the more adventurous company’s endeavours.
If you don’t have the means to get to the Rossini festival in Pesaro, you would do just as well to come to Indianola, Iowa, where Des Moines Metro Opera festival has devised a heady production of Le Comte Ory that is as long on belly laughs as it is on musical fireworks.
Composed during just a few weeks of the summer of 1926, Janáček’s Slavonic-text Glagolitic Mass was first performed in Brno in December 1927. During the rehearsals for the premiere - just 3 for the orchestra and one 3-hour rehearsal for the whole ensemble - the composer made many changes, and such alterations continued so that by the time of the only other performance during Janáček’s lifetime, in Prague in April 1928, many of the instrumental (especially brass) lines had been doubled, complex rhythmic patterns had been ‘ironed-out’ (the Kyrie was originally in 5/4 time), a passage for 3 off-stage clarinets had been cut along with music for 3 sets of pedal timpani, and choral passages were also excised.
With the conclusion of the ROH 2013-14 season on Saturday evening - John Copley’s 40-year old production of La Bohème bringing down the summer curtain - the sun pouring through the gleaming windows of the Floral Hall was a welcome invitation to enjoy a final treat. The Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Showcase offered singers whom we have admired in minor and supporting roles during the past year the opportunity to step into the spotlight.
Many words have already been spent - not all of them on musical matters - on Richard Jones’s Glyndebourne production of Der Rosenkavalier, which last night was transported to the Royal Albert Hall. This was the first time at the Proms that Richard Strauss’s most popular opera had been heard in its entirety and, despite losing two of its principals in transit from Sussex to SW1, this semi-staged performance offered little to fault and much to admire.
Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.
The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.
One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.
That’s A Winter’s Journey and A Night of Mourning for metteurs-en-scène William Kentridge (South Africa) and Katie Mitchell (Great Britain), completing the clean sweep of English language stage directors for the Aix Festival productions this year.
Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.
‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.
The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.
Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.
In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.
High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.
The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.
‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough
and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy
will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.
It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?
15 Mar 2005
Countertenors Victorious in Copenhagen
Last week in the Danish capital city, still chilly after freezing weather and heavy snow, the spirits were raised by two contrasting but equally fulfilling events in the shape of the Danish Royal Opera’s revival of Francisco Negrin’s production of Handel’s “Giulio Cesare” featuring the return of star European countertenor Andreas Scholl in the title role, and the debut appearance in the city of his American counterpart, David Daniels, in a concert performance of Bach and Vivaldi. Both singers were in fact enjoying indulging their talents in their less well known fachs: Scholl is rarely seen on the opera stage and admits to feeling less than completely at home there. Daniels, on the other hand, fresh from yet another Handelian triumph at the Metropolitan Opera (Bertarido in the sumptuous new production of “Rodelinda”) is not known as a Bach specialist, but was essaying his second concert performance in Europe of the great cantata BWV82, “Ich Habe Genug”, reviewed elsewhere.
Copenhagen Opera House
High Flying Singing: Copenhagen's Baroque Feast
Last week in the Danish capital city, still chilly after freezing weather and heavy snow, the spirits were raised by two contrasting but equally fulfilling events in the shape of the Danish Royal Opera's revival of Francisco Negrin's production of Handel's "Giulio Cesare" featuring the return of star European countertenor Andreas Scholl in the title role, and the debut appearance in the city of his American counterpart, David Daniels, in a concert performance of Bach and Vivaldi. Both singers were in fact enjoying indulging their talents in their less well known fachs: Scholl is rarely seen on the opera stage and admits to feeling less than completely at home there. Daniels, on the other hand, fresh from yet another Handelian triumph at the Metropolitan Opera (Bertarido in the sumptuous new production of "Rodelinda") is not known as a Bach specialist, but was essaying his second concert performance in Europe of the great cantata BWV82, "Ich Habe Genug", reviewed elsewhere.
This taking over of Copenhagen by the men who sing high was augmented by two others: Chris Robson, also reprising his acting tour de force in the role of Tolomeo alongside Scholl, and a fascinating newcomer to the European opera scene in the form of young Michael Maniaci, a true male soprano in the small but pivotal role of Nireno. He was one of only two cast members new to the production, the other being John Lundgren as Curio. Once again, Lars Ulrik Mortensen conducted the baroque orchestra Concerto Copenhagen, this time more fully equipped in the horn section and sounding more comfortable in the most demanding of Handel's intricacies.
From a box-office point of view, this was a revival to ensure good returns on a known success story and it did not fail to come up with the goods in that department. Vocally too, the entire returning cast of Scholl, Inger Dam Jensen (Cleopatra), Randi Stene (Cornelia), Tuva Semmingsen (Sesto), Palle Knudsen (Achilla) all sounded far more in concert with both staging and each other, and many of the first-run lacunae have been filled or re-jigged to work more smoothly. However, it was also obvious that this staging still has its limitations and oddities that strike an uncomfortable note - the dead shark's appearance to loud audience laughter just prior to the emotionally-draining aria from an imprisoned Cornelia is still a dramatic disaster, whilst some of the more obvious visual jokes pall quickly.
Vocally, the stand outs were Semmingsen and Scholl. The young mezzo has matured vocally and dramatically and now makes a stunningly effective Sesto, showing great understanding of Handelian sensibilities yet also displaying confident cadenzas and ornaments all her own. She is lucky to have the build and features that adapt well to this part, and should be able to take this role almost anywhere in the world, should she wish to. Scholl's many fans were not disappointed by his performances during the first week - his renowned tone and technique, not to mention upstanding physique, fit this role extremely well, and there were some glorious moments once he had warmed up. If his "Aure, deh per pieta" lacked a little in legato silkiness compared to the first run, his singing in "Se Infiorito", the "duet" with the violinist on stage, was particularly elegant, charming and effortlessly virtuosic and also showed that he is now, at this stage of his career, beginning to feel more comfortable on the opera stage. A slight tendency to wave the hands around in moments of high emotion remains, but overall this was a much more satisfying dramatic performance than three years ago.
One young singer who will not have any such concerns on the dramatic front is Michael Maniaci - at 28 years old he is already showing an amazing ability to hold the eye whilst doing virtually nothing on the stage, coupled with an exciting strong true male soprano voice that promises much in roles written for the higher castratos of Handel's time. He has already had significant successes in such roles and as Monteverdi's Nerone in the United States (Wolf Trap, Glimmerglass, Chicago Opera Theatre ) as well as a much-discussed Cherubino at Pittsburg, and this was his European debut in a large house. Unlike in the original production three years ago, Nireno's one aria in Act 2 "Chi pede un momento" has been restored for Maniaci to sing, and he took full advantage of this opportunity. If the voice was still a little unfocused and uncontrolled from time to time, he showed excellent intonation, strength and true colour. One could look forward to hearing him in the title role of a major production Xerxes one day, and certainly as Sesto in the near future. Could this voice be the next big thing on the baroque opera scene, in the way that Daniels was a decade ago? Certainly it is an exciting prospect to whet the appetite of aficionados of the genre.
© Sue Loder 2005